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La Salle and His Legacy

La Salle and His Legacy: Frenchmen and Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley

Edited by Patricia K. Galloway
Copyright Date: 1982
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    La Salle and His Legacy
    Book Description:

    To most people it probably seems that La Salle and his men, permanently fixed in the pantheon of explorers of the North American continent, need little further introduction. The fact is that this whole early period of exploration and colonization by the French in the southeastern United States has received far less scholarly attention than the corresponding English and Spanish activities in the same area, and even the existing scholarship has failed to focus clearly upon the Indian tribes whose attitudes toward the European new comers were crucial to their very survival.

    In this collection of essays marking the tricentennial of René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle's 1682 expedition into the Lower Mississippi Valley, thirteen scholars from a variety of disciplines assess his legacy and the significance of French colonialism in the Southeast. These scholars in the fields of French colonial history and the ethnohistory of the Indians of the Louisiana Colony deal with a diversity of topics ranging from La Salle's expedition itself and its place in the context of New World colonialism in general to the interaction of French settlers with native Indian tribes.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-635-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Patricia Galloway

    With 1982 marking the tricentennial of the exploration of the lower Mississippi Valley by the expedition led by René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, it was thought fitting that the occasion should be commemorated by a variety of observances in the states bordering the river along the expedition’s route. In the state of Mississippi a Governor’s Commission was appointed and the Mississippi Historical Society proposed to contribute to the scholarly aspect of the observance by devoting its annual meeting of 1982 to papers related to the theme of early French exploration and settlement. The papers in this volume include eight that...

  4. PART I: La Salle’s Expedition of 1682

    • The Image of La Salle in North American Historiography
      (pp. 3-10)

      HISTORY, like journalism, is transformed by the popular biases and world views of successive generations. Individuals reflect their environment, and their writings mirror their personal realities. This psychological phenomenon—a subconscious process, resulting from years of internalization of prevailing values—is most evident in the major schools of American historiography.

      Living in an era in which individual initiative, unabashed imperialism, and the white man’s burden were the hallmarks of western society, nineteenth-century historians were understandably preoccupied with personalities and events which seemed to exhibit these values. Consequently, their works are replete with accounts of intrepid European and Anglo-American adventurers who...

    • Sources for the La Salle Expedition of 1682
      (pp. 11-40)

      THERE IS NO DOUBT that La Salle’s exploration of the lower Mississippi Valley in 1682 was at least equal in importance to Soto’s “discovery” of the river, both to Indians and Europeans; La Salle’s journey and his later attempt at a Gulf Coast colony resulted in sufficient French interest to stimulate the later settlement effort under Iberville, and it was La Salle’s efforts, not Soto’s, which motivated the Spanish to establish their outpost in Pensacola. But due to the fantastic interest stirred by the information brought back by the earlier Spanish expedition as well as the “first” in European exploration...

    • The Chickasaw Contact with the La Salle Expedition in 1682
      (pp. 41-48)

      LA SALLE’S EXPEDITION down the Mississippi in 1682 was indeed a significant historical event. To claim the lower Mississippi was strategically important for the French, for not only would the French be able to tap the natural resources of the area, thereby competing with the English, but they would also be able to utilize the natural water route between their northern and projected southern settlements. Further, a powerful French presence in the lower valley would deter the English from continuing their westward expansion.

      The accounts of the expedition provide us with a brief glimpse of life along the river, a...

    • La Salle at the Natchez: An Archaeological and Historical Perspective
      (pp. 49-59)

      IN MARCH, 1682, during his epic voyage of discovery down the Mississippi River, La Salle visited the Natchez Indians near the modern city bearing their name. The Natchez were one of the most powerful and interesting of the lower Mississippi Valley tribes, and for this reason scholars value every scrap of information about them contained in the records of the early explorers. Unfortunately, the geography of that first known contact by literate Europeans¹ is clouded by apparent confusion in the historical documents. The first to call attention to the problem was John R. Swanton, who, more than seventy years ago,...

    • The Impact of the La Salle Expedition of 1682 on European Cartography
      (pp. 60-78)

      In the very first sentence of his bookA History of Geographical Discovery and Exploration,J. N. L. Baker pointed out that “the history of geographical discovery tells of the evolution of the map of the world from its simplest and most elementary beginnings in antiquity to the highly specialized form which is known today.”¹ This brief essay will direct attention to the belated manner in which European maps of the New World came to reflect René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle’s momentous exploration of the lower Mississippi River and delta in 1682.

      This is not a simple story of yet...

  5. PART II: The Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Southeast

    • France, The New World, and Colonial Expansion
      (pp. 81-92)

      IN 1962 the Franco-Algerian war came to an end when representatives of those two peoples decided that an eight-year slaughter had to cease. A colonial war, just as costly as the Indochinese War which had preceded it, this war left France drained of treasure, with many thousands of her sons dead or maimed. In the context of her imperial system, which sons was she to mourn: those that were French or those that were Algerian? Charles de Gaulle had called the struggle forAlgérie françaisea “sterilizing obsession,” and it had been just that, as other colonial enterprises had been...

    • Reluctant Imperialist: France in North America
      (pp. 93-105)

      The story of France’s participation in the Great-Power struggle for control of large portions of the Western Hemisphere can best be described as a century and a half of hesitancy and half-heartedness. There is little substantive evidence to indicate that the French nation between 1600 and 1762 possessed a zeal for colonial endeavors comparable to that found among other European nations, particularly the Spaniards, Portuguese, British, and Dutch. Indeed, as France entered the modern age, Frenchmen remained ideologically divided on the subject of empire, with the balance weighted heavily in favor of the internalists. They were, however, periodically faced with...

    • Andrés de Pez and Spanish Reaction to French Expansion into the Gulf of Mexico
      (pp. 106-128)

      WHETHER GREAT MEN influence the times in which they live or whether momentous events produce outstanding men, Admiral Andrés de Pez was an outstanding Spanish naval hero whose life was spent protecting the Spanish Empire and opposing Spain’s enemies, particularly the French. Like his contemporary, Sieur de La Salle, Pez was at the heart of the international struggle for control over the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf of Mexico. Except to a few specialists, however, Pez is relatively unknown: no American automobile was ever named for him. As Douglas Southall Freeman wrote, “A man’s place in history depends, in large...

    • The English Reaction to La Salle
      (pp. 129-136)

      WHEN ASKED if I would prepare a short report on the English reaction to the La Salle expedition, 1684–1687, I agreed to do so because of the research which I had already completed on Dr. Daniel Coxe, the proprietor of Carolana. Inspired by the narratives of Father Louis Hennepin and Henri de Tonti, whose earlier connections with La Salle need no elaboration, Coxe planned to establish a colony of Englishmen and French Huguenots on the Gulf Coast in 1689–1699. In fact, Coxe’s plans triggered the French and Spanish race for the Gulf Coast. The French mission of 1698/99...

  6. PART III: French Settlement and Indian Neighbors

    • Mobilian: The Indian Lingua Franca of Colonial Louisiana
      (pp. 139-145)

      THERE IS EVIDENCE that American Indians communicated and transacted with one another in alingua francain the southeastern United States. This common or commercial language was referred to by earlier writers as the trade language of the southeastern Indians. James Mooney gave a brief description and an estimate of the range of its use:

      This trade language, based upon Choctaw, but borrowing also from all the neighboring dialects and even from the more northern Algonquian languages, was spoken and understood among all the tribes of the Gulf states, probably as far west as Matagorda Bay and northward along both...

    • Henri de Tonti du village des Chacta, 1702: The Beginning of the French Alliance
      (pp. 146-175)

      IN THE WRITING of ethnohistory, the importance of documents describing the first European contacts with Native American peoples cannot be overstated. For the interior tribes of the southeast first contact is generally reported from the “false dawn” of 1540–43, but since it is still not clear what route the Soto expedition took through the Alabama and Mississippi areas,¹ nor precisely what forerunners of the later historic tribes they met, it is hard to make maximum use of the expedition accounts as first contact documents; they are more useful, and have been so used, for documenting the sociopolitical structure of...

    • An Archaeological Study of Culture Contact and Change in the Natchez Bluffs Region
      (pp. 176-193)
      IAN W. BROWN

      WHEN LA SALLE traveled down the Mississippi River in 1682, he had grand hopes for expanding French control over a major portion of North America. Four score years later, had he lived, he would have seen his dreams go up in smoke. Although Louisiana played a minor role in the Seven Years’ War, its fate did rest on the outcome of this contest. Louisiana was divided between Spain and England in 1763, but the recipients did not receive the prize they had perhaps expected.

      Some thirty-odd years earlier France was in the process of building a strong colony. Mobile was...

    • French Fortification at Fort Rosalie, Natchez
      (pp. 194-210)

      IN A WORK CALLEDLe Voyageur Français(The French Traveller), edited by the Abbé Delaport and published in Paris in 1769, the traveller, in a letter on Louisiana, states that La Salle “took possession of the country in the name of Louis XIV, called it Louisiana in honor of this prince and constructed a fort there; the Spaniards would have built a church; the English a tavern.”¹ The building of forts was indeed the principal interest of the French, for their occupation of Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley was primarily for the miliitary purpose of preventing the westward expansion of...

    • The English Bend: Forgotten Gateway to New Orleans
      (pp. 211-230)

      WHEN ROBERT CAVELIER DE LA SALLE and his party of explorers descended the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico in the spring of 1682, they became the first Frenchmen to pass through the section of the lower river that would later be named the English Bend. Amongst La Salle’s exploratory group was the Recollect priest Zenobius Membré, who recorded the party’s journey on the river and provided the first description of the area of the English Bend. After planting the Christian cross and the royal arms of France at the mouth of the Mississippi on April 9, 1682, La...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-248)
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 249-252)
  9. Index
    (pp. 253-260)